This year, and in all probability the next couple, will be transformative for the new homes sector. Despite all best endeavours from developers across the spectrum, the industry has lacked a single, unifying code with a sensible and balanced purpose that all companies can be focussed upon.
The New Homes Quality Board (NHQB) was established for the purposes of developing a new framework to oversee reforms in the build quality of new homes and the customer service provided by developers.
As a customer care business, specialising in the new home sector, we are completely onboard with this. Our entire outlook is working with developers to provide a good standard of after care for their customers, something we have been doing now for two decades. It is not an easy service to administer for several reasons. Firstly, the developer wants to move on and develop their next site – that is how they make money and making money is why all business exist. That process has got harder over time … suitable land availability, planning consent, finance, contractors, material availability … the list is extensive, and the capital risk is high. Developers earn our respect time and again for their grit determination and fortitude.
Secondly, their customer (new home purchaser) is now accustomed to very slick, highly polished consumer offerings. Choice, packaging, range, immediacy, quality … driven by online business and the importance of communication and entertainment, how we all see the world in 2022 is at the opposite end of the spectrum to how we all lived and interacted in 2002 (After Build’s launch year).
Even the last couple of years have seen a massive acceleration of aspects of this new world order – a global pandemic has pushed the boundaries for communication (video conferencing) and consumer purchasing – buy it online today, have it delivered tomorrow. We all want it now, and much less looks like a failure, or at least a disappointment.
Thirdly, the financial crash in 2008 impacted severely on a sector that was already in trouble – the construction contractor. The large numbers of highly effective eastern European trades disappeared when global financial constraints forced developers to mothball projects, and when eventually the ice thawed and business resumed, we found that the contractor deficit had got even worse. A lack of training and apprenticeship programmes hadn’t helped. And to most school leavers, a career as a plumber, a carpenter or bricklayer lacks the appeal of working in media or designing websites. As trades retire, they are not being replaced with enough new young blood. The skills and experience are diminishing and this can impact on the quality of work carried out.
Speak to any developer about the quality of their build or the standard of the after care and they will respond confidently that they build a better product than most and they have so few problems that they don’t really have an after care issue either. And yet the data we collect tells a different story. The average number of snags per property (i.e., what was wrong with a home at legal completion) has risen from 2-3 to 15-20 over a couple of decades. And the average number of defects (those issues reported in the first two years following legal completion) has increased from 3-4 to 10-15.
Something can’t be right, but I say again, I wouldn’t swap places with any developer, they have their work cut out and we’ve witnessed many a project over the years, slide from something that had all the promise of a great return, to a frustrating, costly dilemma.
But, while we see the reasons why it can be so difficult (and we haven’t even touched on the weather), consumer expectations are high, and the quality of the product cannot be allowed to fall below those ideals. So, the New Homes Quality Board have created an industry standard, defined by the recently published Quality Code, that all new home developers will be expected to meet. It won’t be an easy transition, because for many it will require a considerable degree of change in their business. And we know that the NHQB understand this, so they are offering training and support, and a degree of acceptance that it will take time to achieve compliance – their website suggests that on average they think 3-6 months from registration (which by the way is initially by invitation).
Where do we sit? After Build has several roles and satisfying them all, all the time, is no mean feat.
First and foremost, our customer is the developer and in working for them we are responsible for providing a service that meets both warranty standards and the Quality Code. I strongly suspect that for the next couple of years a lot of our time will be invested in education (how the Code must be applied), support (helping an organisation make the changes necessary to how they do business to become Code compliant) and guidance (making sure there are no aspects of what they do that fail the Code).
But we cannot overlook the relationship we also have with the homeowner who, largely see us as their resource and hold us to account when there is a problem in their new home. It is a difficult conflict to manage at times as their interpretation of what they believe to be their rights doesn’t always square with the developer’s … and that is why we welcome the new Code. For the first time ever, there will be a single, unifying standard by which ALL developers must work and against which homeowners can expect a service to be delivered.
Sign-up will take all of 2022 and, although there will be no requirement to meet the Code until a developer has registered, we strongly advise that all businesses start to apply the Code now. Get into the habit of working according to the standards defined in the Quality Code as soon as possible, because it will take time to adjust and identify where changes must be made.
This is very much an overarching view of how we see the impact of the New Home Quality Board’s work and the cohesive way that over the next couple of years it will pull the industry into a better place than it has maybe been over recent times. The quality of product will be enhanced, as will the customer’s level of service and care, post-build.
We look in more detail in subsequent articles as specific aspects of the new Code and share our thoughts on what it all means and how we can help businesses make the adjustment, and benefit from a better, complaint avoidance approach.